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  • Jason So

When would bad UX be the goal?

This year, Amazon released a documentary 'All or Nothing: Arsenal', revealing what went on behind the scenes during the 2021/2022 season for Arsenal Football Club, the team I support. The series opened up a lot about the club to me as a football fan.

However... something else caught my attention - as an experience designer.

Experience designers are taught to think about how to make the best experience for users, and that is true in some aspects in sport and football. Each football club has their own stadium, in which they play their home games - for Arsenal, it's the Emirates Stadium. Built in 2006, the Emirates Stadium was designed with multiple users in mind - the spectators, players, coaches, staff and more. What caught my eye in the documentary was the design of the changing rooms at the stadium, as it was shown in great detail whenever Arsenal played there. In fact, I've actually been there on a stadium tour when I was in London!

Emirates Stadium tour with my family in 2013.

The changing room is important because that is the place where everyone groups up and where the coach's final team talk is held before the match. It has been redesigned since then, and many things have been changed. The room is lit differently, with individual lights in each cubicle. The table in the middle has been removed so that every player can have eye contact with each other, as well as the coach or manager standing in the middle, and this is further facilitated by the rounded corners of the room. All very user centric - thinking about how players and staff can better communicate with each other.

Emirates Stadium home changing room 2022

However, this was not the changing room that caught my attention - it was the away changing room, which was used by opponent teams when they visited the Emirates Stadium. The room is rectangular so that players in the corners were uncomfortable. The colours of the room were bland and boring, perhaps to make the players feel tired before the match. An abnormally tall table is placed directly in the middle of the room. When more objects such as water bottles or other equipment is placed on top, it is almost impossible for the coach or manager to make eye contact with all the players at once, and it is also impossible for players to see each other without standing up.

These 'features' were all designed with the user in mind - the opposition. But in huge contrast to many experience design goals, the aim is to design a bad experience for the user - to hinder communication, to make them feel uncomfortable, to make them perform poorly.

Emirates Stadium away changing room 2022

Arsenal isn't the only team to implement bad designs into their changing rooms:

  • Liverpool's Anfield has slippery marble floors so that players have to be extra careful and tiptoe around.

  • Burnley's away changing room has small doors, so that players have to hunch when entering and exiting.

  • Newcastle's St James' Park, the changing room does not have a screen, so teams have to bring and install their own in order to review any media.

  • Many many more to this list!

Newcastle's St James Park away changing room in 'All or Nothing: Arsenal'

What have I learnt from this?

Sometimes intentionally making bad designs can actually help us think more creatively, by understanding what not to do.

Going forward in my work, creating bad designs and then doing the opposite could be a great approach to designing great user experiences.

Are there any other instances of intentionally bad UX design? Or have you personally used this method to approach a design solution?

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